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Conservationists fault Nairobi expressway ‘green space’ plan

President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta when he flagged off road construction works of the JKIA-Westlands expressway in Nairobi last year. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Conservationists have demanded openness from the government as plans to construct the multi-billion shilling expressway from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to Westlands in Nairobi starts afresh.

World Resources Institute vice-president and regional director for Africa Wanjira Mathai called on the government to engage the public “who will be more affected by the project” that is set to cost Sh59 billion.

“Decongesting the city is not always about constructing more highways but better management on the flow of traffic,” said Ms Mathai.

Under the environmental impact assessment published last week, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has ordered the Chinese contractor to plant trees in all affected public places.

These include Nairobi National Park, Uhuru Park and the Arboretum which the 27-kilometre highway is set to cross.

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Nema has also directed the contractor, China Road and Bridge Corporation, to clean the sections of Nairobi and Ngong rivers over which it will pass.

The environment regulator says the measures will open green spaces to compensate for permanent loss of vegetation and destruction of bird habitats at the Nyayo Stadium and Westlands roundabouts.

But speaking on Tuesday at Uhuru Park’s Freedom Corner during the commemoration of Wangari Maathai Day, environmentalists appeared unconvinced. “If the government touches Uhuru park on the project, it will set a bad precedent because with the growing population, in the next 50 years we wll need these green spaces within the cities to survive.”

Greenbelt movement chair Marion Kamau said the proposed expressway and creation of road interchanges in the Karura forest was an affront to the protection of green spaces.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko in a statement delivered by the Chief Conservator of Forests Julius Kamau said the government aims to plant 360 million trees every year up to 2022 to achieve 10 percent forest cover.

“This is an enormous task but easily surmountable with the active participation of both state and non-state actors,” he said.

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